Jewel thief cites media influence on court in appealing conviction

DUBAI // A Serbian businessman jailed for his part in the Dh14 million (US$3.8m) Wafi City robbery received an unfair trial due to intense media coverage, his lawyer claimed. Ali al Shamsi, the lawyer for the defence, asked the Dubai Appeal Court yesterday to acquit his client and overturn the earlier ruling, claiming the lower court was unduly influenced in reaching its verdict.

The defendant, NM, 33, was sentenced in June to 10 years in prison for his part in the robbery of jewels from the mall. The evening robbery on April 15 last year, saw a gang smash through the glass façade of the shopping centre in two stolen cars, drive up to the Graff jewellery store and rob it. Known as the "Pink Panthers", the gang was believed to have been formed in the Balkans. Mr Shamsi said the level of public interest and media coverage in the Wafi City robbery unfairly swayed the Dubai Court of First Instance into passing the harsh sentence.

"They did not find any of the stolen items with my client, he did not help the gang members get visas to enter the UAE, or buy the abayas used in committing their crime, nor was he connected to any of the vehicles used in the robbery, and despite this the court issued its ruling convicting my client," Mr Shamsi told the court. In June, the Court of First Instance was satisfied that the evidence showed NM's complicity, that he had in fact entered into agreement with the thieves in Belgrade and planned the robbery with them, that he facilitated their entry into the country and had received them at the airport.

NM's compatriot and co-defendant in the case, MM, 52, was found not guilty by the Court of First Instance, but the prosecution appealed against the verdict, asking the Appeal Court to convict MM. MM, who was arrested as he was getting into a rental car in which some of the stolen jewellery was found, denied any connection with the car or the jewellery. He claimed a Serbian friend of his gave him the keys to the car and told him he could use it.

The Appeal Court is set to issue its ruling in the case on Nov 23.


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